Kalief Browder’s Suicide Prompts John Legend to Speak Out: ‘He Died Because Our System Is Broken’
The tragic story of Kalief Browder, the 22-year-old New York man who became the symbol of America's broken criminal justice system, has touched people all over the world, including singer John Legend.
In his thought-provoking essay, the piano man offered his thoughts on the untimely death of Browder, who committed suicide on June 6. Browder’s story began over five years ago, when he spent three years at the notorious Rikers Island jail, mostly in solitary confinement. He was accused of stealing a backpack at age 16 -- a crime he never committed.
While he was incarcerated, Browder suffered horrendous torture from both guards and inmates. In 2013, he was released from jail, but apparently, the experience had scarred him. Browder suffered years of severe paranoia and other mental issues. In early June, he took his own life.
In his commentary, Legend states that Browder “died because our system is broken.”
“New York failed Kalief. The list of things that went wrong in his case begins with his first encounter with the NYPD, whose practice of targeting black teens is well documented,” he wrote. “The idea that being accused of stealing a backpack would lead to his arrest and detention would be absurd if it weren't actually tragic.
“He should not have been tried as an adult, or had prosecutors, defenders, and judges so overwhelmed with cases that he waited three years for trial, violating his constitutional right to swift justice," he added. "He should not have been held in an adult jail where he would spend 700 to 800 days of those three years in solitary confinement. He should not have spent one day being abused by guards or the others incarcerated there.”
Rosie O'Donnell is another celebrity who's also mourning the death of Browder. In her poem, titled “1000 Nights,” O'Donnell writes that Browder had happily told her he had met with Jay Z, and in turn, she told the young man she had spoken with Jay Z and Kanye West about "him and his greatness."
"i love him / i microwave love him / i vow to the light i will keep him / sign my name on his soul," she writes. "1000 days / kalief survived / yesterday he surrendered / part of me has gone with him."
Read John Legend’s essay at NYMag.com.
Tell us how you feel about Kalief Browder’s tragic story in the comments below.